The craze for vacant real estate is due in large part to a lack of attractive alternatives. Strict controls on capital outflows prevent most Chinese citizens from investing any real money abroad. Chinese bank deposits earn very low interest rates — lower, for the past year now, than the rate of consumer inflation. The public sees the country's domestic stock exchanges, which have endured volatile ups and downs over the last few years, as little more than high-risk casinos. In contrast, real estate, which has not seen a sustained downturn since China first converted to private homeownership in the 1990s, has long looked like a sure bet.